With a little imagination and a few creative containers, you can plant bulbs, corms or rhizomes for inexpensive gifts.

Pick a Variety

Plan ahead if you want to force bulbs (coax them to bloom in water) yourself: 3 to 4 weeks for paperwhite narcissus, 6 to 8 weeks for amaryllises and as long as 3 to 4 months for hyacinths, tulips and many others.

Running out of time? Give a "grow-it-yourself" kit, complete with bulbs and potting soil, plus a pretty pot. Or buy blooming bulbs and transplant them into distinctive containers you can dress up with ribbon.

Super Holiday Choices

Lily-of-the-Valley

The 6-inch-tall stems, each with five to eight white, drooping, bell-shaped flowers, fill a house with sweet perfume. The flowers grow from rhizomes called pips, which you plant 1 inch deep. Allow 3 months of cold storage. As with all bulbs that need chilling, keep them at 40 to 50 degrees or refrigerator temperature and don't let them freeze.

Or you can buy precooled bare rhizomes, which bloom 3 to 4 weeks after you plant them. You also can dig pips from your own garden and keep them in cold storage until you're ready to plant. Choose a delicate-looking container that's at least 5 inches deep such as the ivory porcelain urn that we bought at a local crafts shop.

Crocus

For the best indoor show, plant large-flowering 5-inch-tall Dutch varieties such as Violet Remembrance or snow-white Jeanne d'Arc. Put 10 to 12 corms in a 6-inch pot, covered with 2 to 4 inches of soil. Chill for 14 to 15 weeks.

Hyacinth

Ten inches tall, with showy clusters of blossoms and a powerfully sweet fragrance, hyacinths come in blue, pink, white, purple, peach and yellow. To reduce chilling time from 14 weeks to 10 or 12 weeks after planting, buy prechilled bulbs.

Dwarf Iris

Miniature irises in blues and purples stand 4 to 6 inches tall. The fragrant flowers resemble tiny orchid blossoms. Bulbs need 15 weeks of chilling after planting. harmony, with sky-blue petals surrounded by royal-blue petals markeed with gold, is one of the best for forcing. Tuck the bulbs into any small container such as a metal drinking cup you can buy at sporting goods stores.

Tulip

Most varieties require 14 or more weeks of cold storage after planting, although a few need only 10 weeks. Plant the flat side of each bulb facing the side of the pot. When the plant grows, its outer leaves, which are larger, will drapge gracefully over the edge of the pot.

Paperwhite narcissus

These clusters of fragrant white or cream-colored daffodils on single stalks grow form bulbs that are easy to force. They require no soil or prechilling. Fill a shallow bowl two-thirds full with gravel, stones or marbles, topped by as many bulbs as will fit. Add more material, leaving the top halves of the bulbs exposed. Water should barely touch the base of the bulbs. Expect blooms in 3 to 4 weeks.

We bought a clear-glass cookie jar at a discount store and planted narcissus in pebbles on the bottom. The tall sides hold up the leggy foliage, but we added a wooden spoon and tied a red ribbon around the stalks for extra support.

Amaryllis

This plant's trumpet-shaped blooms grow as narrow as a couple of inches or as wide as 6. Plant one large bulb, with pointed ends up, in a 6-inch-wide pot or three of a miniature variety in an 8-inch-wide pot. Place so the bulbs are one-third to one-half above the soil line. No cold treatment is needed. Flowers appear 6 to 8 weeks after planting. Lady June, a double-flowered Dutch hybrid, blooms in a terra-cotta pot we painted green and decorated with silver leaf.

Daffodil

Most varieties require planting in soil, flowed by 15 weeks of chilling. Tete-a-Tete, an easy-to-foce yellow miniature, gorws 6 inches tall and needs only 12 weeks of cold treatment. These blooms look festive inside a small galvanized metal pail, adorned with a plaid bow.

Holiday Gift Tips

Plant one type of bulb in each pot. Select a shallow container with drainage holes for most bulbs. Be sure to place the pointed ends of the bulbs up. Plant tulips, daffodils and hyacinths at least 2 inches deep in soil so they're thoroughly buried.

You can grow hyacinths, small amaryllises and paperwhites in special vases called "forcing jars." Each vase, which ahs a cinched neck at the top, holds a single bulb. To prevent rot, water should barely touch the base of the bulb.

To prechill, place bulbs in the fridge, but not in a drawer with ripe fruits and vegetables. Gases from produce restrict growth. Or set planted pots in a cold frame outdoors. Cover with straw when the temperature dips to 30 degrees or lower. Keep the soil moist.

After the cold treatment for each type of bulb, place the potted platns in a cool, but sunny, area. A window seat is an ideal location. The plants will be spindly if you put their pots in indirect light. When the buds show color, but before they bloom, move the pots to indirect light to prolong the flowers' lives.

You can't reforce hardy flower bulbs such as hyacinths or tulips after they bloom, but you can plant them outdoors when there's no longer a danger of frost. Discard paperwhite bulbs, since they're not hardy in the Midwest. You can force amaryllises, unlike most bulbs, to bloom again.

Advertisement